This team exemplify the flair and panache that we have come to expect, along with the pragmatism and grit that is needed to be champions.
Back in the summer of 2014, a Brazilian team led by the ‘Golden Boy’ of the generation, Neymar, walked out at the Corinthians Arena for the first game of the tournament. However, amidst the fanfare, disaster soon struck when Neymar went down clutching his back under the challenge of Colombian defender, Juan Camilo Zuniga. Brazil’s talisman was out of the World Cup and his team paid the price for his absence, being put to the sword in a 7-1 loss against Germany in the game that would see them knocked out of the tournament.
Four years down the line, as we sit on the threshold of another edition of the quadrennial competition, Brazil comes in as strong favourites, not because of the host country, but because of how the squad has evolved and how they have grown as individuals and as a team. When Tite took over in 2016, he inherited a squad brimming with talent and potential, but lacking direction and a winning mentality. He looks to have changed this trait over his tenure at the helm of the team.
Tite has changed Brazil into a dreadnaught
This Brazil team exemplify the flair and panache that we have come to expect from the South American country, along with the pragmatism and grit that is needed to be champions. One of the most noticeable changes in the current team, from the one fielded in 2014, is an escape from their overdependence on Neymar. The 26-year-old is still one of Brazil’s marquee players, but he is no longer the be all and end all of the team.
Tite has a plethora of attacking talent from which to choose, with the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino coming into the national setup on the back of stellar domestic seasons. Coutinho has scored 26 goals and provided 13 assists in all competitions for his clubs this season and looks every bit as much of a daunting prospect to opposing teams as Neymar does. This exponential increase in attacking depth has put Brazil in a far more promising position to take the fight to teams in the upcoming World Cup.
Another factor that has played a role in the growth of the Brazilians is the appointment of Tite as the head coach. They looked to the veteran Luiz Felipe Scolari for the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. However, he was unable to carry the success in the Confederations Cup over to the World Cup and stepped down soon after their exit from the competition. His successor, Dunga failed to put the horrors of the 2014 tournament behind his team as they crashed out of the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas.
Dunga was replaced by Tite, who has managed to get the side believing and working as a unit again. While he operates in a similar style to his predecessors, he has managed to get the best out of his individuals while also getting rid of the dead weight lingering around the team.
He began with an insurgence of quality into the team by replacing the likes of Bernard and Fred with players like Willian and Jesus, who have been in excellent form for both club and country. The 55-year-old has impressed fans with his ability to make the tough calls and still keep the players on his side. Former Brazil International, Neto has even gone as far as to compare him with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.
Brazil have emerged as of the favourites to win the World Cup 2018
The Brazil side of 2014 looked to be one filled with talent throughout the team, but proved to have a lot of flaws and gaps in it, especially in defence. Thiago Silva, Brazil’s marquee defender was serving a suspension in the infamous defeat to Germany. The replacement pairing of Dante and David Luiz were ripped apart by the Germans, indicating a real lack in depth at the back.
Silva has worked his way back into the national side after being snubbed by Dunga and has firmly established a strong defensive partnership with Inter Milan’s Joao Miranda. The midfield grit of Casemiro, Fernandinho and Paulinho along with the solid defence and frightening attack, make Brazil a daunting prospect for any side that they come up against over the course of the World Cup.
It is truly a testament to how much Brazil have learned and grown over the course of the last four years. Even though their biggest player Neymar is coming off the back of an injury that has kept him out of action for a large part of last season, Brazil still look like favourites to go far in the tournament. Football is unpredictable and we have learned to expect the unexpected, but on the face of it, it is very hard to look past Brazil as possible finalists. Only time will tell.